The air cargo market has showed new signs of life to start 2014, although demand remains below already depressed levels, says the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Total market volumes increased by 5% year on year in January while load factors remained modest at 41.9%, according to IATA's monthly update.
"The air freight business is showing some encouraging signs," says Tony Tyler, IATA's director general and chief executive. "But it's too early to be overly optimistic."
Meanwhile, Boeing also sees signs that the market is "picking up a bit", as it faces a dwindling backlog and open production slots for the 747-8 Freighter.
"We've got to keep an eye on this thing," Ray Conner, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said on 4 March at a JP Morgan conference.
Last week, Cathay Pacific agreed to buy three 747-8Fs, while canceling a deal for eight 777Fs. The move likely helped fill vacant production slots in 2014, and forestall a decision to move to a lower production rate than two aircraft per month on the 747-8 assembly line.
Boeing warned in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last month that the production line for the 747-8 could slow down in 2014 in the absence of new orders.
Despite weak air cargo demand, Boeing remains confident in the market appeal of the 747-8F. Conner cited Cathay Pacific's decision to opt for three 747-8Fs.
"It is so much better than anything they have in their fleet today," Conner says. "If freight and cargo comes back I think we'll be in pretty good shape."